History of the St. Vincent de Paul Society
St. Vincent de Paul was born to a poor peasant family in France in 1581. Educated by the Franciscans, he tutored the affluent to finance his formal theological studies. He was ordained in 1600, and hoped to rise in the hierarchy of the Church, obtain wealth, retire early, and support his family. In 1605, while travelling on a ship, he was captured and sold as a slave. He escaped and upon finishing his studies in Avignon and Rome, Vincent became pastor of a small parish in Clichy. During his time there, he became conscious that the poor were not being evangelized or helped. A call to a more pastoral ministry emerged and developed into a strong passion to care for those in need, both physically and spiritually.
From that point forward he spent his life preaching missions to and providing relief for the poor. He founded the Ladies of Charity, a lay institute of women who collected funds to provide food and clothing for the poor. Later, with the help of Saint Louise de Marillac, he founded the Daughters of Charity. Vincent established several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war, ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa, and ministered to convicts. He was a pioneer in clerical training and was instrumental in establishing seminaries. Vincent became the leader of what is now known as the Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentians. These priests devoted themselves entirely to the people in smaller towns and villages.
Vincent died in Paris on September 27,1660.
Inspired by St. Vincent, a young French student, Frederic Ozanam, founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833. At that time, Frederic was a student at the University of Sorbonnes. While participating in a debating society there, an opponent challenged him about what the Catholic Church was doing to help the poor in Paris. Stung by this question, Frederic Ozanam set out with a group of young men to address this problem. The founding members developed their method of service under the guidance of Sister Rosalie Rendu, a member of the Congregation of Daughters of Charity. She urged the men to take St. Vincent as their patron, and thus the Society was born.
Compassion in action was the heart of Frederic Ozanam’s spirituality.
A man convinced of the inestimable worth of each human being, Frédéric served the poor of Paris well, and drew others into serving the poor of the world. Through the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, which he founded, his work continues to the present day.
To learn more about our National Society, click here.